How the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system became Metal Gear Solid’s secret weapon

How the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system became Metal Gear Solid’s secret weapon

For a series as full of fan service as Metal Gear Solid, it’s still surprising to see a sheep attached to a balloon take off as a meme. Pun intended

The surprise star of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (or STARS), an experimental technology dating back to the 1950s that allowed a covert operative be airlifted out of hostile territory by an aeroplane travelling at low altitude.

The STARS fit nicely into the world of Metal Gear Solid, with its mixture of cutting-edge real-world tech and science fiction gadgets, and at first glance, it is so bizarre that it seems like it could only have come from the fictional side of the divide.

The agent puts on a harness, inflates a helium balloon attached to it, and lets the balloon float off into the sky, where a plane with a specially-designed attachment scoops it up, catching hold of the cord. It then rapidly hauls in enough rope to get the evacuee safely above ground, before slowly pulling in the rest while they slipstream behind the plane as it pulls away towards its cruising altitude.

It is probably one of the most unlikely military inventions ever put into use, and all the more surprisingly, only resulted in one fatality during its 28 years of operation. Eventually rendered obsolete by long-range helicopters, it was finally taken out of use in 1996.

Of course, Metal Gear Solid V touches on some of this, letting the player airlift Snake out of play using the system. But the real star (or STARS) of the show are … animals.

Because Metal Gear Solid V is the first game to let you attach a sheep to a helium balloon, catch that balloon with a plane, and airlift the sheep to your secret mercenary base floating off the Seychelles.


This high-stakes animal rescue is the topic of this week’s Updog podcast, the Guardian’s new podcast which takes stupid internet things very seriously. We examine the speed with which the Fulton STARS went viral, taking in everything from riffs on the same joke that gave our podcast its name:

Through mash-ups with last week’s viral phenomenon:

To … well, to somewhat odder stuff:


Yes, that last video isn’t technically from Metal Gear Solid V (it’s actually an uncut trailer from 2013’s spin-off game Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance), but once you fall down the rabbit hole of Metal Gear memes, it’s hard to stop at just one game.

For the full history of Metal Gear’s love affair with the internet, as well as a look at what culture feels like when you experience it entirely through second-hand quips on social media, listen to Updog (and follow us on Twitter at @updogcast).

Want more weird video game memes? Follow us on Twitter @Updogcast. You can find all the Tech Weekly podcasts here.

This article titled “How the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system became Metal Gear Solid’s secret weapon” was written by Alex Hern, for on Monday 14th September 2015 14.55 UTC